Last edited: 17 May 2019
Cooking over traditional fires presents numerous health risks to the user and those around them, which are only compounded by inadequate access to cooking fuel. Solar cookers not only help to mitigate exposure to harmful emissions, but they also provide several other health-related benefits to their users.
A lack of access to widely available, inexpensive, and clean cooking fuel presents significant health dangers for those living in such a situation. Relying on traditional fuelwood and other biomass for cooking is often coupled with cooking indoors over a three-stone fire, which leads to exposure dangerous emissions. Regular use of traditional cooking fires, especially when cooking fuel is scare, presents other risks to users and those around them as well.
Household air pollution
An estimated three billion people globally cook over fires fueled by biomass, such as wood, dried vegetation, and animal dung. The emissions from these sources of fuel are extremely toxic, and when they are concentrated in an indoor environment, can cause severe health complications, especially when ventilation is also poor. The World Health Organization reports that 3.8 million people die every year from diseases related to exposure to household air pollution, including pneumonia, heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), stroke, and lung cancer.
Pregnant women who are regularly exposed to household air pollution are also at a greater risk of their child suffering from low birthweight or possibly even a stillbirth.
- Main article: Household air pollution
Dangers posed to women and girls
When fuelwood cannot be purchased, due to either availability or affordability, it is often the women and girls in a family who are tasked with gathering cooking fuel alternatives (branches, dried vegetation, animal dung, etc.). Not only does this prevent them from taking part in other activities, such as education and economic opportunities, but it exposes them to potential harm. It is not uncommon for women and girls to be attacked, including sexual violence, while collecting cooking fuel as they are forced to leave the safety of their home and nearby surrounding area—a danger which only grows with time as deforestation leads to increased travel distance as resources become more scare.
Without reliable access to inexpensive cooking fuel, the choice of how and when to use available fuel can be a difficult one. As cooking daily meals will more often than not be a family’s top priority, other uses, such as water purification, can be necessarily left unaddressed.
Those who live with a lack of access to affordable fuel often live in areas where clean water is not readily available. Without sufficient cooking fuel, water is often left unpurified, which can lead to waterborne illnesses such as cholera and other diarrheal diseases. These diseases are responsible for the deaths of over 500,000 children annually and are the second leading cause of death of children under the age of five.
- Main article: Water pasteurization
Solar cookers are not only emission-free, and as such, are not contributors to any household air pollution-related diseases, they do not require any fuel to be collected and can act as a low-cost water pasteurization device.
The health benefits of solar cookers include:
- Improved health outcomes among users and those around them due to reduced exposure to household air pollution from cooking fires.
- Women and girls, often tasked with the dangerous burden of collecting fuel for cooking fires, do not need to venture out and risk attack as solar energy is the only cooking fuel required.
- A reduction in waterborne illness as solar cookers provide an economically-viable means to pasteurize water, making it safe to drink.
- Environmental benefits of solar cooking
- Household air pollution
- Water pasteurization
- Water Pasteurization Indicator